People often speak of "the environment" as if it were something separate from us; a nebulous something-out-there that folks venture into on weekends. There are shout-outs to protect planet earth, to take action against climate change, etc., but the real message should be that whatever happens to the world out there happens to all life on the planet—humans included. All life on this planet is interconnected, so whatever damage is done to one area will affect the whole; a rather sobering thought if we can pry ourselves away from our iPhones long enough to really think about it. Well, pictures are worth a thousand words: maybe taking a good look at the incredible places, plants, animals, and insects that share this planet with us will remind us that there's a lot to lose if we don't step up our conservation efforts.
Great Barrier Reef
Comprised of nearly 3,000 reefs and islands and stretching over 1,400 miles, The Great Barrier Reef provides a home to thousands of different species. Tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, seahorses, and some of the rarest coral species in the world all make their homes here, and the reef is seriously threatened by both climate change and pollution. This protective habitat also absorbs strong waves that would otherwise wreak havoc on the marine life in the area, but the coral reefs that make up the majority of the structure are deteriorating.
Red Squirrel, England
Did you know that squirrels were introduced to American parks in the late 1800s to maintain people’s health and sanity? These sweet little creatures are friendly and trusting, and can develop a great rapport with the people who feed and play with them. Red squirrels, native to the UK, are becoming increasingly rare as they’re killed off by larger grey squirrels that were introduced to Britain from the USA last century. Deforestation is also a major issue, as the red squirrels prefer to live in coniferous forests… which are also popular with furniture companies.
Stone Forest, Madagascar
The Tsingy stone forest in Madagascar is a wonder to behold, and even more amazing when you consider the number of species that live within its rocky outcroppings. All of Madagascar is incredibly rich in plant and animal species, but the combination of deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade is threatening the future of this majestic land. People’s hunger for rosewood, as well as exotic pets such as geckos, chameleons, and snakes, may destroy the majority of the area’s wildlife within the next few decades.
Wing Scales of an Owl Moth at 40x magnification
This gorgeous image might not be recognizable immediately, but take a good look: it’s a magnified view of a common owl moth’s wing. Stunning, isn’t it? Although butterflies tend to be more popular than their duskier cousins, moths are actually far better pollinators than they are, and do most of their work when everyone else is asleep. Pesticides and herbicides have been destroying moth numbers as well as those of bees, and the loss of pollinators will result in worldwide crop failure and hunger. There are organic ways to deal with unwanted weeds and insects that won’t result in killing off those we need most, and poisoning us all in the process.
The Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
Located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway (Clochán an Aifir) is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the British Isles. Its stunning geological formations are absolutely mind-blowing, as its enormous (mostly) hexagonal pillars sink into the sea. The area is a haven for sea birds, and is also home to several rare/endangered plant species such as frog orchids. Climate change is causing severe damage to this site, mainly from coastal erosion and rising water levels. Entire nature reserves along the coast could be underwater within twenty years.
Jellyfish, Up Close and Personal
The delicate, frond-like tendrils of a jellyfish are gorgeous to look at, but many of them are so full of venom that they can leave permanent damage to those they come in contact with. Rather than being threatened by encroaching human activity, jellyfish thrive on over-fishing and pollution, and they’ve grown in number so much that they’re infesting beaches and shallow waters around the world. Some jellyfish stings can be fatal to humans, and if a bloom of these little beasts collides with a fishing operation in open waters, those tentacles can kill all the fish within the nets. From an ABC News report on the subject: “The jellyfish are a message in a bottle that the sea is depositing on our beaches,” (oceanographer Joseph Gili) says. The ocean’s message to mankind, he adds, is simple: “You are destroying me.”
Gran Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The largest salt flat in the world lies in southwest Bolivia, 12,000 feet above sea level. It’s a vital region for migrating birds such as flamingos and geese, and of the 250 cacti species that grow in the region, 70% exist nowhere else on earth. Lithium, magnesium, and potassium are all concentrated beneath the crust, and many international corporations are pressuring the Bolivian government to allow them to extract these minerals. So far they’ve been met with strong opposition, but if they’re allowed into the region, the results to the surrounding ecosystem could be catastrophic.
King Penguin Breeding Colony, Antarctica
Penguins are rather delightful creatures, aren’t they? Pudgy and adorable, these flightless birds waddle around awkwardly on land but soar and swoop when they’re in the water. Ocean pollution, climate change, and overfishing have put these little wonders on the WWF’s endangered species list, and those who steal their eggs and hunt them for oil have contributed to their dwindling numbers as well.
Paria Canyon, USA
The undulating walls of Paria Canyon in were formed over thousands of years as sediment-rich water roiled through the canyon, gouging at the surrounding stone. Countless plant and animal species call this area home, but invasive species such as non-native tamarisk and Russian olive have been establishing themselves in the area, reducing plant biodiversity and altering water movement. Recent climate changes and intense storms have also caused flash floods throughout the region.
Humpback Whale Calf, Indian Ocean
In this photo, a humpback whale calf swims close to the ocean’s surface; the young ones can’t hold their breath as long as adults do, so they won’t dive too deeply until they’re close to a year old. Although staying near the surface allows them to breathe more easily, it also puts them at greater risk of injury from boat propellors, as this young one seems to have experienced already. Hunting and pollution have caused a massive declinein the number of humpback whales around the world, and the Canadian government recently proposed to move them from the protected/endangered list to that of merely “special concern”, which opens all kinds of doors with regard to animal rights abuses.
Images like this almost seem too gorgeous to be real, but views like this one in Ecuador are very real indeed, and extremely endangered. The Tropical Andes region might be only one small fraction of the planet’s land mass, but it’s home to nearly one-sixth of all plant life on Earth, and countless threatened amphibian and mammal species as well. The nearly-extinct spectacled bear and yellow-tailed woolly monkey make this region their home, but the area is dwindling quickly because of agricultural deforestation, oil drilling, and hydroelectric dams. Keep in mind that the Amazon rainforest provides about 20% of the planet’s oxygen; it’s not like we can breathe without it. It took millions of years for this region to develop into this sanctuary of biodiversity, and humans have taken just a couple of decades to damage it almost irreversibly. How can we stop this from continuing?
Murmuration of Starlings, UK
No, that isn’t an ominous storm brewing on the horizon: it’s an enormous flock of starlings, also known as a “murmuration”. Many city-dwellers throughout North America are used to the sight of these pretty, speckled songbirds, so it might be difficult to believe that they (and sparrows) are on the “red list” of endangered species in the UK. Songbird numbers across Europe have plummeted by 80% over the last 30 years, and although scientists aren’t completely certain as to reasons behind their decline, it’s likely that deforestation, as well as pesticide use, have been strong contributing factors.
It’s hard to look into the eyes of an orangutan and not recognize the kinship we have with these beings. Orangutans are close primate cousins, sharing 97% of our DNA, and they may be lost to us forever within the next few decades. Deforestation due to illegal logging, forest destruction to create palm oil plantations, and mining have decimated orangutan numbers, and vast numbers have also been killed off by hunters. Climate change has had a significant impact on the area, but it’s human activity that threatens these animals more than anything else, and it’s devastating to think that they might be lost forever because of our own greed.
Seven Colored Earths, Mauritius
Believe it or not, this isn’t a Photoshop job: these are the very real multi-colored dunes (Terres des Sept Couleurs) on the island of Mauritius. Located near a dense forest rich in avian life, the area is protected from human intrusion by a series of fences and walkways, allowing tourists to view its beauty without defiling it. Although this regions is fiercely protected, the unique wildlife on the island is threatened by recent habitat destruction as well as the introduction of non-native species, including the macaque monkeys that are bred there specifically to be sold to the UK and EU for scientific testing purposes. The BUAV is currently leading a campaign to stop this cruel trade.
All images via Shutterstock